Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dark Souls (2011)

We're gonna take a trip down ye olde nostalgia gaming lane for a moment, bear with me:

Remember in the olden days when RPGs did not come with a map, or they came with a rudimentary one and you couldn't expect a full map from Nintendo Power for a few months?  When a game seemed to actively work against you to the point where you thought the game hated you, and you alone?  Secrets and hidden prizes were the reward for exploration and exploitation on a second play-through?  You had to grind through  mobs just to hoard whatever meager XP and GP they dropped just to get an advantage over the next dungeon?  Imagine a time when you didn't have to wait for load screens.  Imagine a RPG system you couldn't instantly nerf.  Remember when death brought a tangible cost to your character, not just in L33T perma-death mode?

Well, dear readers.  I think that I might have found such a game. Dark Souls kept me playing from around 2AM Saturday 04/20/13 to 5AM 04/21/13 - sober  (I played a couple hours of Puzzle Quest waiting for Dark Souls to download) and I think I've barely scratched the surface to this beast. I have checked no FAQs, no cheats, no hints (except for in-game), no game manual, and no one I know has played it.  

Dark Souls is not a loot'n'run, it is not Skyrim, it is not going to kiss your boo-boo when you fall off your training wheels.  Dark Souls doesn't give a fuck if you like it.  In fact, if you don't like it then you weren't gonna hack it anyway, so take a walk down wash-up lane.

Dark Souls can be summed up very simply, "Do it again and do it right this time."  But in a very Kafkaesque way, you are lost and somewhat scared  of what you're doing.

Do I have your interest?

I remember reading about Dark Souls on a couple of "hardcore" gamer and RPG junkie sites back in '11 but I got distracted by Skyrim and all that folderol.  It just slipped through the cracks until Saturday evening, while I was looking for a game to download and play.  For $19.99 I figured, "Fuck it.  Worse comes to worse it's an RPG I can tear through and review."

Load up, character class selection, etc etc, yeah I got this...

During the beginning of the game, what sparsely is a tutorial, I died.  Okay, not a big deal.  Wait, I died again?  Okay...learning a new game, it's a little different than Skyrim and Dragon's Dogma.  Ah ha!  Got the bastards that were killing me!  Huzzah!  What's down this hall way?  FUCK.  I just got one shotted in the "tutorial"?  A peculiar combination of rage and fascination came over me, the likes of which I haven't felt since my early days in EVE.  Okay.  I took a sip of my water and rolled the kinks out of my neck.  Then got killed again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  At one point the rage set in and I stormed in...and got killed again.  And then, the rage turned into, well if you've seen me hardcore game and bulldog a problem, or if you've seen me when I'm past anger and into calculation shut-down mode...that time I didn't die.

Then after I got through "the tutorial" I found myself in a land where everything hates me.  There are no mission markers, no map, no nanny NPCs, no explanations, and no crutches.  In a strange way DS immerses you in the game the same way Ico did.

I could write more about my experiences with Dark Souls but that would take away from yours.  What I have to say is that I haven't been this challenged by a game in a long time (besides some platformers which I suck at anyway).  I have a few problems with the mechanics but I can't tell if that's because of my character class choice (Thief) or just having a gaming experience that won't allow me to be comfortable.

Here's one thing I will tell you.  Every time you use a Bonfire - which acts as a hub for leveling, inventory control, etc, etc - all enemies (except for big bads) respawn.  Bonfires are few and far between, so a route you may have just barely cleared is now repopulated.  It's actually kind of brilliant and I figured out one nerf trick (figure it out for yourself) because you need to not only grind but practice survival.  I'm almost at lvl 35 and can one hit some foes, if my timing is right, but I got careless and swamped and died in no time flat.

Do I love Dark Souls?  Well, the game looks good and the voice acting is excellent.  Inventory control sucks.  For an action-RPG that focuses so heavily on combat I wish I had a few more moves in my play book.  Weapon shifting is awesome though and feels really natural (and vital in combat) between left and right hands.  I normally have a shield equipped on left hand with a bow in a secondary slot, sword and spear in right.  The maps are "small" but dense with exploration and enemies, you'll do a lot of running around/backtracking but through exploration and survival you'll discover links between areas to diffuse the backtracking.

Do I love Dark Souls?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  It is the first game in a long time which almost made me smash my controller into the TV.  I feel totally lost in some areas and it's only adrenaline, luck, and a touch of skill that has allowed me to survive.  I may not love it yet but I will dominate it.

p.s.  Remember in Fallout 3 the first time you beat a Deathclaw?  That satisfaction?  Imagine that feeling every time you defeat an enemy.

p.p.s. It took a strong force of will to write this post and not just play Dark Souls.   

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